Image courtesy of Iowa AAU wrestling.
The wrestling mats were out in full force over Easter weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, from April 2-3. Iowa AAU wrestling hosted the AAU National Duals and Twin Rivers Duals. The weekend consisted of three separate events: the AAU Freshmen/Sophomore National Duals, the Twin River Junior/Senior National Duals, and the AAU Lee Pamulak Middle School Duals.
In total, thousands of boys and girls from nearly 20 different states will meet to determine who the country’s best youth grapplers are.
AAU Wrestling National Chair Wes Creason has been putting on youth wrestling events in the Hawkeye State for more than three decades while working with his colleagues at Iowa AAU wrestling. Over the years, he has seen these events change in a myriad of ways.
“The main improvement I’ve seen over the last ten years is the overall level of competition for the kids,” Creason said. “There’s a lot more technique with the younger [middle school] kids than there was before.”
Another change has been the addition of events for a broader range of ages. When Creason originally began this role, the tournaments were for middle school-aged only. Today, however, Iowa AAU has expanded its efforts. It now has events at the high school level and has created opportunities for all-girl dual meet teams. This weekend will showcase a culmination of all of these efforts and advancements.
Despite change over the years, Creason refuses to alter his primary objectives: providing a fun, worthwhile event with a diverse field of teams and making sure athletes get a lot of time on the mats.
“The main thing people look for when they travel the tournament is if it’s run well and if it’s done in the kids’ best interest,” Creason said. “A lot of teams will come because they can build some camaraderie within the team. By traveling and spending a couple of days overnight in a hotel, doing the things those young kids do in hotels, they’re going to come away with some shared experiences. It always makes the team or closer.”
The experience is enhanced by the fact that not only do kids get between eight and ten individual matches throughout the event, but they also get to compete against elite out-of-state talent.
“We [Iowa AAU wrestling ] are cognizant of the time that it takes to do these tournaments,” Creason said. “Plus, it’s Easter weekend. So, we did start wrestling on Good Friday so that families can be home for Easter Sunday.”
“There used to not be hardly any tournaments this weekend, but this year, there’s three or four big ones right around the Des Moines area. So, we’re amazed and happy that we got this kind of turnout,” Creason continued. We know a lot of teams won’t come if they don’t think their going to get to see other wrestlers from other states. So that’s a huge priority for us.”
And with such a wide array of individuals states represented, it only heightens the sense of rivalry and competition, which is great for any sporting event.
“The rivalry seems to be that everyone wants to beat the team from Iowa,” Creason said with a laugh. “We [Iowa] have a rivalry with Nebraska for sure. A lot of the top teams in every division will have a lot of state champions and qualifiers competing [including Iowa]. The interest is to see how Iowans compare with kids from another state. So that’s a unique part of it.”
“It is a learning experience as much as it is a wrestling experience for a lot of these kids,” Creason said. “I made sure the teams bring alternates too. Even non-starters will get their five to eight matches.”
It is also worth mentioning that the proceeds raised during this weekend of AAU Iowa Wrestling action are for a good cause.
“We make money to spend back on our team, so we get more kids opportunities to enjoy stuff,” Creason said. “In the past year, I’ve taken a team to Kosovo [to compete], we have also sponsored a team from Kosovo here in the Des Moines area [before]. I like doing that, giving kids an opportunity to do something they might otherwise not have the chance to. That has been the philosophy since day one for us here in Iowa.”
Knowing that mission, sizeable amounts of volunteers routinely come out to support these events.
“Your tournament only runs as well as your volunteers,” Creason said. “And we’re fortunate, at the school where I’m associated, we have a great booster club and coaches. In Iowa, if we call and want help, all the high school and college coaches will come and help.”
“We do a lot of things with the money we make at fundraisers,” Creason continued. “We have Simpson College wrestling volunteers up here this weekend working, and we’ll put money back into the Simpson wrestling program. When different area schools help us run mats for our kids’ state tournament, we pay in money to their booster club as well.”
While the events will undoubtedly look a little different due to the various COVID-19 protocols, Creason isn’t fearful that the virus will hinder the upcoming events.
As with all other AAU Iowa events in the pandemic era, everyone needs to have a mask on at all times. Similarly, fans are required to spread out and practice social distancing when possible.
Furthermore, there will be four sections of bleachers used. There will be little need for fans to move around much inside the venue because, as far as the teams are concerned, every group will be on the same mat for the entire day. Lastly, there will be multiple rounds of mat cleaning throughout the event.
It is sure to be a fun weekend of competitive wrestling. The trio of events, which begin Friday morning, will showcase roughly 94 total teams, including 42 all-female wrestling teams. In addition to the 42 all-female squads, there will be around 20 middle school teams, 20 freshman/sophomore teams, and roughly 11 junior/senior-level teams in attendance. Slightly over half of the participant field will be high school competitors, while the rest will be middle school-aged kids.
Concerning awards, there will be plenty of hardware to go around.
“We have championship trophies for everybody, obviously, the first place and second place,” Creason said. “And the medals go the first eight team finishers in each division. Also, we have AAU All-American rings for the guys that go undefeated. It’s like any other good tournament [in Iowa].
The event will be held on April 2-3 at HyVee Hall in Des Moines, Iowa. If you cannot attend in person, all the action will be live-streamed via Trackwrestling.
Watch the event through Trackwrestling here.